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Review of The Assassination of Brangwain Spurge

The Assassination of Brangwain Spurge
by M. T. Anderson; illus. by Eugene Yelchin
Middle School     Candlewick     530 pp.     g
9/18     978-0-7636-9822-5     $24.99

Historian and diplomat Brangwain Spurge has been sent from Elfland to the neighboring goblin kingdom to return a precious artifact. On the surface, it’s a gesture of goodwill to a rival nation, but he’s secretly spying for the elves, sending back reports while he sleeps. Spurge is initially contemptuous of his polite and ingratiating host, the goblin archivist Werfel. As Spurge waits to deliver the artifact into the hands of the goblin ruler, he warms up to Werfel, and the two develop a genuine friendship. Unbeknownst to them both, however, their respective nations are preparing for war. Spurge’s spy reports, not always reliable, are represented by Yelchin’s digitally assembled pen-and-ink illustrations, which, like those in Selznick’s The Invention of Hugo Cabret, wordlessly carry a large part of the narrative. With the look and feel of medieval lithographs, they include touches of humor, whimsy, irony, and menace; as such, they are well suited to both the acerbic wit and the affecting tenderness of Anderson’s prose. The result is a fantasy that couldn’t feel more real and timely, obliquely referencing a political climate marked by a lack of civility, underhanded diplomacy, fake news, widespread bigotry and prejudice, and the dehumanization of marginalized people.

From the September/October 2018 issue of The Horn Book Magazine.

About Jonathan Hunt

Jonathan Hunt is the coordinator of library media services at the San Diego County Office of Education.

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